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Angel Dust is possibly one of the most underrated power metal acts of all time, and Enlighten the Darkness is likewise possibly one of metal’s greatest hidden classics – a quantum leap above Bleed in overall quality (though that's a kick-arse album as well). I’m seriously outraged at not having heard them before now. Listening to Enlighten the Darkness is a sublime experience; I don’t believe I am alone in ascertaining that it should hold appeal for more than just fans of progressive and power metal. Angel Dust (even since their days as a Teutonic speed-thrash band, but much more so in their more melodic reincarnation), has made an artistic point of juxtaposing the brutal with the gentle in creative and startling ways; this album is nothing less than a perfection of that art.
‘Let Me Live’ starts off with a ghostly synthesised whisper, before yielding suddenly to a martial bass lead delivered with all the force of a swift and potent kick to the face – setting the scene for Dirk Thurisch’s lost and bewildered scream, ‘Separate me from the dead all around smashed into the ground; ecstasy of killing blinded my eyes!’ In the first two lines we already see sketched out the conflict that plays out across this entire album – the soldier’s mandate to kill warring against his instinct for self-preservation and his need to be close to his fellow human beings (particularly, in this case, his wife and children). As a concept album, Enlighten the Darkness hangs together remarkably well. Even the slower, more melodic ballads like ‘Beneath the Silence’, ‘Still I’m Bleeding’ and ‘Oceans of Tomorrow’ do not feel overwrought, maudlin or out-of-place. All of them explore and develop this conceptual tension lyrically and musically.
The production is amazing, and every element is remarkably well-balanced on this album, and each of the musicians is really at the top of his game. Dirk Thurisch deserves particular kudos here; he demonstrates a vocal range and an emotional honesty and intensity rivalling that of Geoff Tate on Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime, whether he’s in screaming mode (as in ‘Let Me Live’) or moving into a more pained, introspective bass range (as in ‘Oceans of Tomorrow’). Frank Banx’s bass and Dirk Assmuth’s drums are also given numerous opportunities to shine, and they take full advantage (I’m guessing they had particular fun with ‘Enjoy!’). Guitarist Bernd Aufermann also provides the needed power and technical skill, particularly on tracks like ‘Come Into Resistance’. Steve Banx’s keyboard, here given to futuristic chirps and whistles and sound effects as much as melodic synthesiser work (to amazing effect on ‘The One You Are’), is a bit more subdued here than on Bleed, overall, but I think that works to the band’s advantage in this case; the taiji of the keyboard’s yin against the bass/drums yang has been developed and refined to a point where transitions between the melodic sections which the keyboard dominates and the more raw, crunchy power metal sections where the bass and drums do are flawless. I dare any metalhead to listen to the transition between ‘First in Line’ and ‘Cross of Hatred’ and tell me afterward that he didn’t start headbanging at the word ‘go!’
Looking for weak spots on here, I truly and honestly cannot find any. There are no simply weak tracks to this album; however, my favourites here are certainly ‘Let Me Live’, ‘The One You Are’ and ‘Come Into Resistance’. All of them showcase both the band’s massive momentum and sheer, overbearing power – however, once they’ve completely rolled over you with deep, crunchy bass/drums tank treads, on a second and third listen you can appreciate more fully the almost-symphonic compositions which ride atop them. This, my fellow headbangers, is how melodic metal SHOULD sound.
A couple of notes on the album’s lyrics and politics. As readers of my reviews should be aware, I like my music to have an edge to it, preferably one touching on social issues. Angel Dust is far less ham-handed in their antifascist message than, say, Masterplan (who take the standard liberal ‘can’t-we-all-just-get-along’ approach) or Sabaton (who appear to be fans of a mindless rah-rah jingoism); but for all that, Angel Dust explores the issue in greater depth, from the personal perspective of a common foot soldier with an ordinary life and ordinary goals. (Given that they are a German band, and this part of their history remains in many ways a sensitive topic, the perspective this band offers is that much more valuable.)
As a result, their antifascism is that much more thoughtful and more thoroughgoing – by exploring the horrific experiences and wounded, twisted psychology of someone who actually followed a fascist regime, they are in a better position to tear down the pretensions of the ideology. This is reflected in the music – the soul of the soldier lost in the horror of the mechanised killing all around him, screaming to an unseen power to ‘let me live’; whose pain and sense of loss don’t fade away even when he returns to his family.
Conclusion: brilliant album which cannot be hailed enough. For it, Angel Dust deserve all the steel-studded laurel wreaths we can toss their way.
20 / 20
People, this is it, one of modern Power Metal's finest moments. Angel Dust used to be a mediocre Thrash band, but the harsh and grueling sands of time weathered them into a tried-and-true Power Metal monarch with riffs, groove, power and intelligence to spare. While their previous two albums Border of Reality and Bleed were great, they were really sort of a transition, of which this album is the final product.
I'm not going to bother with the usual moronic sentiments like "Oh my God, it's Power Metal that isn't about dragons!" because I have at least half a brain, but really, this album does eclipse most stereotypical Power Metal with class and style to spare. Angel Dust were always a fairly unconventional band after their reunion, with the closest comparison being a thrashier Symphony X, and here we have their creative peak. Enlighten the Darkness is an oddity in the world of concept albums in the way that it doesn't fuck around with shitty interludes and ten minute songs with spoken word parts, but also in the way that its lyrics are not only unique, but also really good. The concept revolves around the horrors of World War II in relation to one soldier who has come home from the war, and whose vivid, terrible memories are hindering his relationship with his wife. It is a rather vague concept, but it is also really beautifully written, with some absolutely stunning poetic verses in there, and Dirk Thurisch is really the perfect vocalist to communicate it, with his clear, distinct tone and phrasing evoking some of the most heartfelt emotions the human mind can possibly muster.
I think another reason this concept works so beautifully is that the band wasn't afraid of experimenting. The first few songs are all fast and heavy, and they rule, but then the band dips into a slower section of the album, with more poignant and emotional songs detailing the protagonist's failing relationship, and it doesn't sound kitschy or forced at all. These guys just let the music play according to the emotions they wanted to evoke, rather than the opposite way around, which is where most bands that attempt these things come off as contrived. Enlighten the Darkness is a very direct and flexible album, not afraid to go a step beyond what the band's contemporaries were doing and possessing every inch of the musical prowess necessary to get their message across. This album was written in the way that an author would write a novel, in a linear and fluid manner that lends a lot of variety to the sound on hand - it can do anything it wants, not constrained by any genre conventions or cookie-cutter molds, and that is something I wish more bands would do.
On the musical front, we are met with crunchy, aggressive guitar work that will snap your neck like a twig, yet can also morph into a balladic slow section at its whim, kinetic drum and bass work, and keyboards that only add to the rich musical field of jewels that Angel Dust have mined like Daniel Planesview on his best day, perfectly intertwined with the heavy attack and accentuating the more emotional side of the album as well. Every song pleases, from the crunchy, blazing leads of "Let Me Live," to my personal favorite on here in "The One You Are," with its ultra-melodic tendencies clashing beautifully with the wall of rock-solid sound the guitars churn out, all layered over with that awesome, infectious chorus, to the heavy stompers "Enjoy!" and "Come Into Resistance," which will crush your eardrums and mull the remains over into a fine dust, and then to the balladry of "Beneath the Silence" and "Still I'm Bleeding," until the album finally climaxes with the one-two punch of the blazing, infectious and triumphant "Cross of Hatred" and the poignant "Oceans of Tomorrow." And then, you will either be a fan of this band, or you will be nothing.
Angel Dust really hit home with this one, going miles beyond what anyone else was doing at the time in this genre, and honestly, I don't know if this album has been beaten yet, except by prodigal master-works like A Flame to the Ground Beneath and maybe Be Gone. Enlighten the Darkness is a seminal masterpiece of Power Metal, an artistic statement with few rivals in its field, and any fan worth his or her salt should get this as soon as possible. Essential.
Angel dust aren't probably the loudest or fastest power/speed metal band in town. In fact, they are easily beaten in those fields. And still, they are an outstanding band on their own merits.
'Enlighten the darkness' is a complex album that could fall in the cathegory of 'concept albums' in which belong, for example, Blind guardian's 'Nightfall in Middle-Earth'. Most of the lyrics talk about nazism in the Germany of the 1930s-1940s, and about the feelings that drove all the horrors that happened during Hitler's dictatorship and the second World War. Some other certain themes are difficult to put in the same box, however, seeing as 'Enjoy' takes more similarities with the film 'Gladiator' than with any of the issues that are mentioned in other songs. The lyrics are good, but just good, with some highlights in songs like 'Come into resistance' or 'Fly away', but their composition doesn't really reach the level of lyrically intensive bands like Dark tranquillity or Blind guardian.
It's in the music that comes the real meat of this album. The music is composed with a strong sense of power and beauty, and executed flawlessly. Especially highlightable are Steven Banx's futuristic keyboard melodies, Bernd Auffermann's magnificent use of guitars, and definitely Dirk Thursich's voice. I do believe that if only Thurisch was more famous, he wouldn't have anything to envy from the likes of Kai Hansen or Hansi Kürsch. The best-sounding songs in this album are for sure 'Let me live', which has the best beginning a metal band could want for any album as well as one of my favourite guitar solos ever; 'Fly away', that has very good lyrics and awesome voicework, 'Come into resistance', 'Still I'm bleeding', which features very good female vocals; 'I need you', 'Cross of hatred' and 'Let me live'. More than enough songs to justify a buy!
I recommend this album to all those who won't go whining about the music not being loud or anything like that. This album manages to mix some real firepower with ellegant melodic tunes, never sounding much like Iced earth or HIM (to mention two extremes they tend to compare this album to). If you like good music, you owe it to yourself to take a look at this.